Stupid Attack on Scottish Free Education 50


I am, in general, a fan of Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers. But I think he has made a serious mistake over taking the Scottish government to court for charging tuition fees to English students.

Scotland quite rightly refused to follow Blair, Brown and Cameron in the disgrace of abolishing free university education. This is in keeping with Scottish tradition. Scotland had for centuries far higher rates of free education and literacy than England, and five universities when England only had two. The “Scottish enlightenment” and the undeniably disproportionate Scottish contribution to science, medicine, engineering, economics and philosophy were based on education.

The Scottish government would have been delighted to provide free to the student education to English students. Unlike the English government, the Scottish government will continue to pay to Scottish universities tuition fees for Scottish students. The education is not free – the Scottish government pays for it, at the expense of the people of Scotland getting something else with the money instead. If the English government would pay tuition fees for English students, the Scottish government would be very happy.

But plainly the Scottish government could never have the funds to pay the fees of the tens of thousands more English students who would come to Scotland if it were free. The Scottish government has a good defence, that it is not discrimination as fees are based on domicile, not race. Witness my son, Jamie Douglas Murray, who pays fees at Glasgow University.

If Shiner does wins his case, the almost certain result would be that Scotland would have to charge its own students rather than educate the entire UK for free. How on earth would that help anybody? Has Phil Shiner lost his senses?


50 thoughts on “Stupid Attack on Scottish Free Education

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  • Guest

    “The England bus pass only covers travel in England. It doesn’t give you free bus travel in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. If you live outside England, you’ll need to apply for a different pass from your local council.”
    http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/TravelAndTransport/Publictransport/BusAndCoachTravel/DG_10036264
    .
    I am an over 60 year old Scot and live in England!!!. Going back to Scotland in a few weeks, I will have to pay to use the bus service there!!!. I will have to get Phil Shiner to sort this out. If you apply for a driving licence you have to put down what part of the UK you came from (your nationality), your driving licence will state Scotland/England/Wales/Northern Ireland. Seems strange that “UK” no longer applies to so many things!!!. About time the “United” was taken out of United Kingdom.

  • John K

    Craig
    .
    I agree with you about University education being freee as the benefits to the nation clearly outweigh the cost. How could I not? As one of the students from impecunious backgrounds who benefitted in the 70s; my parents could never have afford to finance a degree course for me.
    .
    But there is still a case to be heard on the Scottish fees conundrum. I’m pretty sure the Scottish government will win it, because the “domicle” argument has much merit; but it’ll also be cathartic for the arguments to be discussed more coherently than they have been hitherto.
    .
    And like it or not (and I’m sure you don’t), these kinds of issue will continually come up while Scotland’s anomalous situation vis-a-vis the rest of the United Kingdom continues.
    .
    Situations like this are why, as an Englishman with no particular axe to grind either way, now favour an in/out referendum for Scotland. As I see it, the Scottish people must must choose, preferably sooner rather than later: either be part of the UK with the same rule for access to services like education and health as the rest of the UK, or become completely independent, sharing some services like defence, weather forecasting, coastguards, etc. on the basis of treaty agreements.
    .
    The current halfway house is crazy, unfair, and cannot hold.

  • Gary Hay

    Sorry Craig, I’m certainly not a fan of this man. He comes across as an opportunistic leech who’s trying his damnedest to extract self-serving kudos and a substantial pay-check for himself at the loss of something greater than the inflation of his ego.

    You’ve already succinctly pointed out why Higher Education should remain available to those who have the ability to learn & I agree wholeheartedly with your summation – I’m just appalled that this man can’t rationalise why it’s the Westminster government’s education policies that have forced this decision on the Holyrood administration and are therefore the institution / constitutional setup he should be targeting instead.

  • Rob

    I always thought it was an EU issue, based on the principle that in EU member country X any EU citizen is treated in the same way as a citizen of country X. I know this doesn’t always work precisely, but I believe that is the principle. So I am surprised they’re going for the Human Rights angle. That’s why UK students can study (in English) at Universities such as Maastricht at the same fee level as Dutch students, which is relatively little compared to UK fees.

  • Julian

    Craig, you seem to have studiously ignored the key point of the case. This is that a student from any EU country can receive an education in Scotland for the same price as a Scottish student, regardless of what that student’s own country would charge for education in a local university. Scotland is seeking to have this law not apply so far as English and Welsh students are concerned.

    The villain here, if there is one, is the EU, who have decreed the rule. The question is whether it can be applied to all EU citizens.

  • John Goss

    It’s right, Scotland should decide who it educates for free in Scottish universities. Students at English universities, and those supporting them, should fight for a free education system in England (like it used to be). Imagine if students from England could get a free education in Scotland, as opposed to it costing them £9,000. Scottish universities would be oversubscribed since most would prefer a free education to one that has to be paid for.
    Scottish higher education, as noted, is, and was, excellent. A number of the Midlands’ enlightenment, including Erasmus Darwin, William Small, James Watt and James Keir, all went to Scottish universities.
    All British universities should be free. That’s what Phil Shiner should be campaigning for.

  • 1971thistle

    “The Scottish government has a good defence, that it is not discrimination as fees are based on domicile, not race.”

    Interesting, Wikipedia does not recognsie Scottish as a race, and is refusing to include accessations of racism on Ruth Deech’s profile on those grounds, which is franly bizarre

  • John Munro

    Rob and Julian,as far as I understand it EU law requires that citizens of different EU states must be treated equally as far as access to and cost of education go. However, within states, citizens can be treated differently if they cross internal administrative boundaries. So residents of a BRD (German) Land will not be treated the same as the residents of another Land in their access to and cost of HE. I believe there already have been legal cases covering this.

    John K, no offense I hope but it is not up to you to tell the Scottish people what they must or must not do. If you find the present situation so intolerable then there are, I’m sure, various English based parties which will push for the break-up of the UK. The English Democrats come to mind. It is worth remembering that much of the impetus towards Devolution was provided by Thatcher and Major back in the 80s and 90s. They pushed policies for which there was virtually no Scottish support on Scotland and did so with low and decreasing party support within Scotland.

  • Vronsky

    I expect I’m not the only separatist rubbing his hands with glee at the probable effect on voters of a successful attempt to charge Scottish students English tuition fees. Go for it, Mr Shiner!

  • ingo

    If EU students are not charged and English students are, then it is discrimination, nowt to do with race or domicile’s.

    Whatever this storm in a teacup will result in, we will need some very clever engineers in future and somewhat pronto.

    Those of you who have some knowledge of nuclear energy and the problems that could occur, and have now occured in Fukushima will realise that the decision to go ahead with nuclear energy on a sinking eastern sea board that was succeptible to tsunami’s (landslide in Norway during stone age)in the past, tsunami’s with a 80 meter high wave height, is daft, hasty and without need.
    How do you engineer a vessel holding a liquified core for thousands of years? discuss
    http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/features/2011/06/201161664828302638.html

  • Fran

    @Rob,
    I agree that it is an EU issue. And probably it is against the spirit of Europe to have the English students pay for education in Scotland. It is also incoherent that the SNP government, whose aim is to make Scotland a fully fledged EU state, should enforce a regulation that will be automatically cancelled once their aim is achieved.
    Still, morally: nowhere in EU are university fees as expansive as in England. English students who cannot afford an education in England can choose to go to other countries where state funded universities provide a very good service (Germany and Netherland in the fist place). Some are starting to think about it and considering the current prospects, I suspect that they are going to do it much more in future. Is it fair that English students benefit from a service that is massively funded by other EU states, while in England universities and education are private like institutions whose aim is squeeze money out of students ( English students, Scottish students, EU students, overseas students)?
    EU is based on reciprocity. EU states agree to give equal opportunities to other EU citizens because their citizens are going to get the same treatment.
    England is behaving very much as a free rider in education matters, and the only reason why this issue isn’t felt as much as it should is that most English students are still so provincial that they don’t seize the opportunity for a free ride.

  • John K

    John Munro
    .
    I wasn’t trying to “tell what the Scottish people what they must do”; that’s not what I said; I said they must choose, not the same thing at all, and I’m happy to clarify if that wasn’t evident from my wording.
    .
    And I don’t necessarily want to break up the UK; actually I’ve become indifferent as to whether that happens, as I think that either position (Scotland leaves or Scotlands stays) will work to the benefit of all; but not the current mess, where Scotland appears to many as wanting to eat its cake and have it too.
    .
    To clarify; I understand and respect the right of the Scottish people to leave or stay in the UK, and would not wish the rest of the UK to seek to interefere with that decision, although I maintain the right to have an interest in what they choose, as it affects me too.
    .
    But I think the rest of the UK also has a right, to ask that they make that choice, and sooner rather than later. Personally, I’ve become indifferent to what they decide; but I don’t think the current situation can or should be one of the options.
    .
    As I see it, it’s just not fair on the rest of the UK for the status quo to continue, where (to take only a couple of examples) people living in Scotland have choices and advantages the rest of us don’t, and Scottish MPs vote on English-only issues but the reverse doesn’t apply. It’s either a United Kingdom or it isn’t.
    .
    And this is not a case where political activity or agitation elsewhere in the UK can have any effect; it’s got to be Scotland’s choice to leave or to stay in the UK – or are you seriously suggesting it’s England/Wales/Northern Ireland’s right to expel Scotland?
    .
    On your final point, I agree – but the past is the past and there’s little to be gained from rehearsing whose fault it is that we are where we are.
    .
    But I reiterate that the current position (generally, not in relation to University education) is crazy and unfair on the rest of us. I can understand that many in Scotland will want the current fudge to continue, it’s perceived as being in their interests that it does. But fudge becomes uneatable if it’s left to harden.

  • OldMark

    ‘If EU students are not charged and English students are, then it is discrimination, nowt to do with race or domicile’s.’

    Good point Ingo. FWIW the UK Govt (presumably on the advice of its lawyers) hasn’t used the ‘domicile’ argument to restrict access to loans provided to UK & EU students by the Student Loan Co. English, Scottish, Irish & all EU students are on a level playing field when it comes to claiming assistance via the SLC.

    That level playing field however becomes a sad joke when an EU student from say, Hungary, Lithuania or Portugal returns home with their degree from an English university. The SLC has no traction over the tax authorities in these jurisdictions, and thus cannot recover the monies it advanced to students from these countries while they were studying here. The loans eventually get written off, and the EU students from these countries get, under EU regulations, a free ride.

    If Shiner wins the case, I for one will enjoy the gyrations the Tartanissimo Salmond will have to perform, simultaneously attempting to appear both pro- independence & pro EU.

  • John Munro

    John K. Actually you were telling the Scots what to do. You were asking that they choose. What if they don’t feel like choosing? It may well be a perfectly rational thing to do to go for a devolved system. I’m a long term SNP voter but I’m not necessarily in favour of full separation. I’d probably settle,as most Scots would, for ‘Devo max’. However, if the English cannot live with that then it’s independence.

    What the Scots choose to do doesn’t really effect you in this instance. It was the cretins, in power, at Westminster who set up the present system of university fees. The one real complaint that you have is the right which some Scottish MPs still exercise to vote on purely English matters. That should be stopped and virtually nobody, up here, other than a few Labour activists, would object to it.

    If you would like some of the things that the Scottish Government has done, applied to England, then vote for parties which will provide them. In essence, once Scottish MPs voting rights, on English affairs are removed, Westminster will be England’s devolved parliament. Devolution means that things will be done differently in different parts of the UK. If the people of England cannot get their collective heads round that then the UK is finished.

  • John K

    John Munro
    .
    You interpret the situation differently from me. Fair enough, we must agree to disagee and respect each other’s point of view.
    .
    I cannot however let pass the statement that “What the Scots choose to do doesn’t really effect you…” It does so all the time, in respect to political representation, taxation, health policy, local democracy, education, etc.
    .
    The unwillingness of politicians north of the border to face up to that reality, to act as if there was some kind of wall or vacuum with choices they make for the benefit of Scotland not affacting the rest of the UK and especially England, is a large part of the problem as I see it.
    .
    I can quite see why the option of not choosing, muddling along with the status quo, is attractive to many in Scotland. But is is simply not fair on the rest of the UK, which is why I think it must be challenged.
    .
    And Westminster is not and cannot be England’s devolved Parliament. If a separate English Paliament was established in (say) Birmigham, with broadly similar powers to those of the Scottish parliament then that would indeed solve much of the problem. But I judge that is far less likely to happen than a fully independent Scotland.
    .
    You say “Devolution means that things will be done differently in different parts of the UK. If the people of England cannot get their collective heads round that then the UK is finished.” Apart from what seems to be a patronising view of the English (isn’t that the kind of arrogance Scots claim the English apply to them?) you again miss my point. It’s not the fact that things are “done differently” that’s the problem, its the unfairness in how that is effected.
    .
    Oh well, time will tell whather you are right and the rest of the UK will live with this long-term. I doubt it.

  • SJB

    Craig Murray wrote: “[…] the Scottish government could never have the funds to pay the fees of the tens of thousands more English students who would come to Scotland if it were free.”

    Would it be tens of thousands, though? There are a limited number of places available and – against competition from Scottish and overseas students – how many English candidates are likely to be offered a place?

    btw, Phil Shiner is reported to be arguing the matter on the grounds of a breach of Article 14 of the European Convention [1].

    [1] http://www.echr.coe.int/NR/rdonlyres/D5CC24A7-DC13-4318-B457-5C9014916D7A/0/ENG_CONV.pdf

  • A. Prole

    No one is asking Scotland to educate the entire UK for nowt. You don’t have enough uni places for that in any case. The issue is that a student from Carlisle can be charged £9000, whereas a student from Cologne can get in for free. That’s wrong.

  • calmac man

    John K: “I cannot however let pass the statement that “What the Scots choose to do doesn’t really effect you…” It does so all the time, in respect to political representation, taxation, health policy, local democracy, education, etc.
    .
    The unwillingness of politicians north of the border to face up to that reality, to act as if there was some kind of wall or vacuum with choices they make for the benefit of Scotland not affacting the rest of the UK and especially England, is a large part of the problem as I see it.”

    John, can you tell me in what way you are affected by Scotland’s decisions on those issues?

    Generally I think it’s a shame that you think that the country in which you live must be entirely centralised with no local decisions allowed, but that’s your call.

  • John K

    Calmac
    .
    It would help if you would read what I wrote before commenting. To expand:
    .
    Just a few of the ways in which Scottish decisions affect me (some in favour, some against, some neutral):
    .
    1. UK Political representation No English Parliament; Scottish MPs voting on English matters; over-representation of Scotland in the UK Parliament; etc.
    .
    2. Taxation. Zero sum game in short term; Barnett formula revision; Scottish vs. UK hydrocarbons; Population adjustment of block grant for relative poverty etc.; expenditure per head higher in the devolved nations particularly Scotland than English regions with similar needs assessments.
    .
    3. Health policy. NHS spending overall; Prescription charges; Scottish worse health outcomes than rest of UK; average longevity.
    .
    4. Local democracy. Council tax; Cuts; Larger constituencies in the UK.
    .
    5. Education. See Craig’s post; EU dimension; grade inflation England vs. Scotland; etc.
    .
    And what makes you say that I “think that the country in which you live must be entirely centralised with no local decisions allowed”? At no time did I write anything so absurd or anything that suggests I think that. My beef is with unfairness not localism per se, which is beneficial if it is equitably based and does not descend into selfishness and NIMBYism.
    .
    To condense my argument, it is that the current political disposition means the Scottish Parliament has powers and financial resources not available to England; that it makes decisions which adversely affect the rest of the UK; and that the university fees issue highlighted in Craig’s post is a microcosm of these wider issues which need to be addressed.
    .
    I suggest that, short of broadly equal devolution (with similar powers and financial adjustment based on need not politics) for all four countries within the UK (some adjustments needed for the old established legal sysyem in Scotland and the religious / community issues in Northern Ireland), it would be better if Scotland decided either to leave the UK and become an independent country, or work with Westminster to make the current political and economic system within the UK fairer. Some (many?) Scottish interests see no need to do that, prefering to eat their cake and have it – devolution where it suits their interests, being part of the UK where that works to their advantage.
    .
    I judge that the continuation of this unfairness threatens the best interests of us all, north and south of the border, in the medium to long term.

  • John Edwards

    The fact that the additional fees only apply to students from England and Wales and not to students from other EU member states would appear to be discriminatory and open to challenge.

    Another side of the coin is that Scottish based students are now less likely to attend universities in England and have the experience of living elsewhere in the UK.

  • mark_golding

    I note the threshold rises to £21,000 from £15,000 in 2016. My son will pay £70 a month for ten years. Tuition fees save the government £3 BILLION.
    .
    The Defence budget 2012 is £47.2 billion of which about £3 billion is foreign military aid and £3 billion R&D (Defence) – The governments broadcasting and publishing service costs £4.1 billion. Why?

  • MJ

    “If Shiner does wins his case, the almost certain result would be that Scotland would have to charge its own students rather than educate the entire UK for free. How on earth would that help anybody?”
    .
    If this is a matter of EU law then it is a case that must be heard. If Shiner does win though, Scotland would not be required to educate the entire UK for free. The limitations on place numbers would still apply. It would be required only to educate any EU citizen who can get a place. It would not entail a single penny in additional spending, only that Scottish students did not get privileged treatment.
    .
    This situation might help Scotland enormously in that it could result in Scotland becoming the academic powerhouse of Europe.
    .
    It just goes to show however that true independence and membership of the EU are not compatible.

  • davidb

    Too many people go to university to study for degrees which are of no earthly use or which impart skills not relevant to the economy. Education is undoubtedly a good thing, but setting an arbitrary target, and making courses easy so that any kid willing to turn up for lectures gets an expensive bit of paper is a waste of resources.

    I think the reason fees are creeping in and up is to allow economic natural selection to do the dirty job our politicians are unwilling to do. That is, to admit that we cannot afford to send everyone to university, and we are frightened for electoral reasons to kull this bloated sector of public service provision. Why does the state have to provide these degree courses at all? Why are there not fee paying private universities like there are public schools? Why isn’t the sector privatised?

    The Scots parliament can vary taxes down as well as up. Hows about we charge all students but let them pay 3% less income tax as a subsidy until the student loans get repaid. Britain is bankrupt in all but name. Time we cut up the credit card.

  • Keith

    Craig,

    Quite off topic but I was wondering why is it that a quite small country that seems not to have made too big a name for itself, from which many people could not name a famous person, has not had a government for over a year, is in the Eurozone yet still seems not to be mentioned as needing rescuing as have Greece et al. How does Belgium do it? Have they discovered a Fourth Way?

  • Parky

    It would seem the situation with Scotland is in something of a pickle, a state of limbo, a horlicks and like many things in British life it continues muddling through until some kind of crisis comes along and another policy bodge is made to keep the vested interests happy and let the agony continue a bit longer. Sooner or later though the bullet will have to be bitten and the patient put out of his misery.
    +
    My gripe is with the differences in prescription charges, how can we have a “United Kingdom” with all paying the same tax rates but getting back services dependent on your post-code?
    +
    Bringing this case to court will at least bring that day of reckoning a little nearer.

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